Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies January 31, 2013

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 6:50 pm

peanutcookiesThe cake tin needed filling up this weekend, and I wanted to try a new recipe. I have quite a large collection of baking books, and in some ways that can make it harder to choose a new thing to cook – there is so much to choose from and it’s easier to keep flicking through the pages than to make a decision. So I picked out a few books and decided the recipe I tried would have to be in one of them. It didn’t take long to settle on peanut butter chocolate chip cookies from the Hummingbird Bakery book, and I was very happy with my choice.

I halved the recipe, as it seemed like it would make an awful lot of cookies, possibly even too many (as hard as that may be to believe). That was the right thing to do – I ended up with 16 quite large cookies, which is just enough to eat up while they are still at their best.

This is going to sound terribly immodest, but these really are some of the best cookies I’ve ever eaten, let alone baked. I’m not taking all the credit for that, as it’s clearly just a very good recipe. But I do feel a bit smug about having made them. They are chewy and crunchy, salty and sweet, all at the same time. The recipe can easily be found online, and if you don’t have the book, it’s certainly a good investment – their vanilla cupcakes are also the best ones around. And the good news is that I’ve just spotted they have a new book out next month, called Home Sweet Home.


RSPB garden birdwatch 2013 January 29, 2013

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 10:49 am

greenfinchI expect the figures from this year’s RSPB garden birdwatch will be a bit different from those of recent years: with much of the country covered in snow on Saturday, birds would have been very visible in people’s gardens as they searched for food.

I’m glad we did our bird watch on Saturday – the rain that night washed away all trace of the snow, so that by Sunday colour had returned to the garden and many of the birds had departed. (Also departed were the two snowmen on our neighbours’ lawn – but they left evidence of their existence in the form of two carrots on the grass.)

In our allotted hour this year we saw:

  • 11 blackbirds
  • 6 starlings
  • 3 chaffinches
  • 5 goldfinches
  • 2 fieldfares
  • 2 dunnocks
  • 2 blue tits
  • 1 greenfinch
  • 1 great tit

There was also a robin two gardens over, but he stubbornly refused to come to our garden and so couldn’t be counted.

If we’d done our bird watch the weekend before, it would have been a very different picture, as we would have struggled to accurately count the vast numbers of birds that were here. But it’s still a pretty good showing.

This picture shows a greenfinch visiting our garden about a week ago, when the snow covered every surface.


The birds and the snow January 22, 2013

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 11:59 am

The frozen canal near our house.The first snow of the season fell just over a week ago, and ever since then I have been out in the garden at seven every morning, putting out bowls of water and topping up all the bird feeders. I’ve learned that it is the blackbirds who get up first, and they can usually be seen lurking in the still-dark garden while I set out food for them. They have been here in great numbers – 15 or more in the garden, when usually our limit is four or five.

On Sunday night there was another layer of snow added to the mix – perhaps another couple of inches. The garden on Monday morning was entirely white, but by the time I’d been in and out feeding the birds, there were footprints all over the place.

Over the weekend the fieldfares dominated the scene – there were perhaps three hundred of them that could be seen from our house, perched in every available tree. Many of the berries they rely on have long since been eaten, and I worry and wonder about what I can do to help them. About 18 months ago we planted a hedge at the end of our garden, and this year it is bearing its first crop of berries. But they are low down and so not ideal for the fieldfares, who seem to prefer to eat higher above the ground. By next winter it will be ideal for them. For now though, they are starting to make use of it – it clearly wasn’t their first choice, but it will still be of benefit. Andy read that they will also eat apples, so I bought a few of the cheapest ones, and put a quartered one on the lawn this morning, Within about an hour, it had all gone. I put out a second, and then a third, and the fieldfares and blackbirds are wolfing them down.

It is the birds’ use of water that has surprised me the most – I knew they would need water to drink, but I hadn’t appreciated how keen they would be to bathe. Andy broke the ice on our pond the other day, and the blackbirds and starlings were queuing up to splash around in the icy waters.

Yesterday morning I put on my wellies and headed out, walking through the park on my way home. The schools here have remained open, and so the snow-filled park was empty of children. I imagine they were all sitting staring at the snow from their classroom windows, waiting for their opportunity to throw snowballs and make snowmen. But I enjoyed the quiet, and it was disturbed only by the nose of a group of birds flying out of a tree. They had been startled by a sparrow hawk, who I saw flying away from them, empty-handed.

There are more photos of the snow and the birds here.


Warmer winter food January 15, 2013

Filed under: Food,Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 2:08 pm

prashadI am looking out onto a garden that is both covered in snow and filled with birds. It’s my day off, and I’ve spent much of it watching the birds and filling up their feeders – and hoping that the extra bird food I ordered will arrive soon. This morning I counted 15 blackbirds on the lawn, which I think is a new record for our little garden. Since then we’ve had fieldfares, starlings, blue tits, great tits, and lots of finches. It’s the finches who are running out of food: the ones in this area are very picky and like sunflower hearts. I’ve topped their feeder up with mixed seed and am hoping they will tolerate it until the new stuff arrives – there are dozens of them out there though, and I fear they will be tapping on the glass to complain any moment now.

But I am safely indoors where it is warm and cosy, and I’ve had time to do some baking – the first time the cake tin has had something in it for a week or two (tiramisu cupcakes, in case you’re wondering). I’ve also been going through a new cookbook and putting sticky notes on the pages of recipes I intend to try. It’s a bit of a new thing for me – an Indian cookbook. I’ve always avoiding cooking Indian food, fearing it would involve buying dozens of esoteric spices that go off before they get used. But I made one recipe at the weekend, and only had to buy two new spices for it (turmeric, and cumin seeds).

Now that I’ve flagged up a few more recipes, I think I’ll only need to add garam masala and mustard seeds, which won’t exactly break the bank. If I’m feeling particularly brave I may venture out to an area not too far from here where there are lots of Indian and Pakistani grocers. I managed to track down one of the ingredients for Sunday’s meal of pea and paneer curry in Tesco – the shop assistant asked me what it was wheh he scanned the paneer through the till, which made me feel better about the fact that I’d never tried it either. I have now, and it was delicious – though one of my wooden spoons is now stained yellow from all that turmeric…